10 years after Katrina, LPO to reprise Verdi masterpiece in farewell to Mahalia Jackson _lowres

Photo by Kristen Hobermann -- Elizabeth DeShong, mezzo-soprano: 'Verdi put so much character into the piece.'

It’s as if Verdi wrote “Messa da Requiem” with us in mind.

On January 9, 1973, when the New Orleans Theater for the Performing Arts opened, the “Verdi Requiem” was the first musical performance staged there. The late Norman Treigle, one of the opera world’s greatest bass-baritones and a New Orleans native, was a featured soloist.

Thirty-two years later, in spring 2005, the “Requiem” was the last piece performed by the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra in the Orpheum Theater before it was swamped by Hurricane Katrina.

History will be made again by the “Requiem” on Saturday night when the LPO performs it at the Theater for the Performing Arts, now named for gospel singer Mahalia Jackson.

It will be the last LPO performance at the venue that has been its home for the past 10 years. The Orpheum is on schedule to reopen this fall, and the LPO will be returning to its former home.

The “Requiem” also will be performed on Friday night at the First Baptist Church in Covington. Both performances start at 7:30 p.m.

LPO Music Director Carlos Miguel Prieto will conduct both performances. The work is sung in Latin with English translations above the stage; there is no intermission.

Guest soloists are soprano Lori Guilbeau, mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong, tenor Paul Groves and bass-baritone Alfred Walker. The New Orleans Vocal Arts Chorale will also accompany the orchestra.

Hailed by critics as one of the greatest choral/orchestral compositions ever conceived, the “Requiem” was originally written by Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi in 1874 in memory of Alessandro Manzoni, a poet and novelist whose work Verdi admired. It’s about 85 minutes long.

The “Requiem” was first performed in Milan’s Church of San Marco on May 22, 1874, the first anniversary of Manzoni’s death. Verdi himself conducted, and three of the four soloists had performed in the premiere of his “Aida” two years earlier.

Three days after the premiere, the “Requiem” was repeated at Milan’s renowned Teatro alla Scala to great acclaim and it has been in the standard choral repertoire ever since.

DeShong, a Pennsylvania native who studied voice at Oberlin College and the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, is singing in her second “Requiem,” having previously sung it with the Boise Philharmonic in 2013.

“This is such a big undertaking,” DeShong said. “Verdi put so much character into the piece. When you prepare for it, you feel almost as if you’re preparing for an opera rather than a concert. The way he set the text is so beautifully done. So dramatic.”

DeShong sings in two of the “Requiem” trios, plus one duet with the soprano and seven other pieces with the chorus and other soloists.

“There’s a certain amount of pacing that you do with the ‘Requiem,’ and it demands a lot of the voice but it fits comfortably into my voice,” DeShong continued. “I’m excited to be doing this piece (in New Orleans) and to be a part of its history there.”

CEO James William Boyd, who is completing his second season as the orchestra’s top official, said, “Once again, the ‘Verdi Requiem’ serves as the piece that symbolically transitions the orchestra into a new era. It was the piece that closed our season prior to Hurricane Katrina.”

“This season it will be our final piece before the ushering in of our 25th anniversary and our move home to the Orpheum Theater.”

Tickets are $20-$99. For more information, call (504) 523-6530 or visit lpomusic.com .